Why I Waited 40 Years to Write This

I was 13 and then 14. The teacher made me feel special when I felt ugly and unlovable. Told me it was what God wanted. Said no one would understand and we must keep it a secret. I just wanted attention and the teacher just wanted sex. I felt ashamed and as if it was my fault.

I was in high school. Another teacher would wait for me under the stairway and pass me notes of love. Told me I was special. I thought I asked for it and that it was my fault.

I was in high school. The photographer said I could be a model. His wife greeted me at the door before we went downstairs in the basement for a "photo-shoot" that involved him baring my breast and touching me. I felt paralyzed. I felt ashamed and as if it was my fault.

I was 22 and so proud to be the assistant to a start-up company. Then he undressed in front of me. Finally able to push through the paralysis, I never went back. He retaliated by never paying my employment taxes. It took me 5 years to pay the IRS back. I thought I must have asked for it.

I was 26 and summer clerking at a top 10 law firm. I had worked my ass off to be there and was the first from my school to work in the hallowed halls. The hiring partner seemed to like my work, or not. I saved the cocktail napkin for years from the retreat I went on with the firm where he told me he liked me and to come back to his hotel room. It took me years to tell anyone. I thought I must have asked for it.

I was in my 30s and armed with a law degree. In the same case the opposing counsel continually commented on my appearance and the federal judge rather than commenting on my cogent argument, noted my lovely blue suede shoes. Of course I said nothing lest I suffer negative career consequences. I thought I must have given the wrong messages.

After years of doubting my intrinsic value and feeling as if my gender and attractiveness must be the most important factors, I entered my 40s and the decades of invisibility. There is still the Judge that comments on every dress I wear. I am still called "girl" by one local judge IN THE COURT ROOM. Another tells me and another female attorney to stop our "cat fight."

I am 54. I am strong. I am educated. I have never spoken publicly about the sexual assaults of my teenage years and the many predators I encountered. I am ashamed I never took actions to stop the teachers who groomed, preyed and took advantage of me. I am frightened of what folks will think of me after writing this and how it will change your assumptions about me. I am concerned about the impact it will have on my career and professional effectiveness. I worry about what my family and friends will think. I am concerned that I will not be believed.

After years of work, I have the psychological and spiritual resources to weather all of these fears. I say this so my sisters and brothers who have suffered and who are not believed will feel me holding the small of their backs and supporting them.

It is only because of the giants who have had the courage to speak the truth about sexual assault, harassment and pedophilia have paved the way that I am able to do this. If you have trouble believing them and wonder why they waited so long, please speak to me. I have been bound by the chains of shame that kept us silent. -Dawn Smith (Decatur, GA USA)